Dance & Theatre

Scottish Dance Theatre: Double Bill

Dundee Rep

Three stars

Touring until June 4

Sound Symphony

The Studio, Edinburgh

Five stars

Touring until May 24

The Guitar Man

Paisley Arts Centre

Three stars

Touring until May 26


Scottish Dance Theatre’s Double Bill begins with a revival of Colette Sadler’s Ritualia (which the company premiered last year). The piece is based, very liberally, upon famous Polish choreographer Bronislava Nijinska’s 1923 ballet Les Noces.

The production is danced to a musical score that is dominated by Igor Stravinsky’s original composition for Nijinska’s work. However, Sadler is not interested in the Slavic wedding traditions of Les Noces.

Instead, as the corps of the SDT company connect together like a single creature, its many heads covered by the hoods of their black costumes, there is a sense of something both timeless and otherworldly. The figures’ similarity to the iconic hooded Devil in Ingmar Bergman’s classic film The Seventh Seal may or may not be intentional, but it certainly adds to a slightly discomfiting atmosphere, and one which does not convey the joy of a love freely chosen.

Costume designer Rike Zollner’s creations also have a touch of the fashion show about them (in the sense of their being distinctive, yet entirely unimaginable as clothing to be worn in daily life). This sense of catwalk absurdism is compounded by the bride being adorned by yards of rope.

Ultimately, however, in both dance and design, the regimented austerity of the piece’s opening contrasts profoundly with the liberated duets and solos of the show’s conclusion. The final wedding ritual is one of personal freedom and polysexual celebration.

If Sadler’s work nods to the impractical silliness of the modern fashion industry, Emanuel Gat’s The Circle (which is receiving its world premiere here) is all but consumed by it. There is some nice choreography in this piece which explores the relationship between the individual and the collective (including poses that are evocative of classical sculptures of athletes), if only Gat would allow us to enjoy it.

It’s hard to do so, however, when his work is dominated by costumes of such pretentious, distracting ugliness; think garments not so much worn by, as roughly assembled upon, the dancers, as if they had been dragged through a fashion show wardrobe backwards. The company (not least the magnetically charismatic Jessie Roberts-Smith) dance with impressive energy and dignity, despite the palpable, postmodern silliness of the attire forced upon them by costume designer Thomas Bradley.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, as we leave the daftness of Gat’s piece and encounter Ellie Griffiths’s entirely beautiful Sound Symphony. A work of music and object theatre, this work by Independent Arts Projects in association with Capital Theatres is designed, primarily, for children and young people aged eight and over who have profound autism.

This delightfully interactive piece offers a show-within-a-show in which we, the audience, appear to be going to a classical music concert. In the foyer music is made with tickets being torn and ice cream spoons being shaken.

In the studio space itself, performers undergo comic transformations into the formal garb of concert musicians. Their playing of classical instruments is accompanied by gorgeously simple songs which echo the sounds made by the children themselves.

Bluetooth technology is used to generate sounds that are, clearly, attuned to the aural perception of many young people with profound autism. Likewise the superb object work, be it the tearing and rustling of sheet music or the crushing of bubble wrap under the wheels of a performer’s wheelchair.

At every stage of the show, the children are free to interact with the performers, instruments and objects in whichever way they choose. At last Monday afternoon’s performance, one little girl was observably delighted to take over from the xylophonist.

As beautifully conceived in its visual and tactile dimensions as in its music and sound, Sound Symphony is a brilliantly crafted, wonderfully benign, deeply moving piece of theatre. One only hopes it reaches as many of the young people who are its target audience as possible.

Finally, to music of a very different kind in The Guitar Man, a 1999 play by famous Norwegian author Jon Fosse. A UK premiere, and the debut work by new, Edinburgh-based touring company Surrogate Productions, it is a monologue for an ageing, drifting, male busker.

A sometimes affecting reflection on the personal catastrophes of late capitalism, the piece alights upon the anguished dance within so many people between resilience and despair. It is performed here, not by an older man, but by a young woman, Renee Williams, whose engaging, emotionally nuanced performance elevates the character to the status of an Everyperson.

Director Nora Wardell’s staging is (like designer Sarah Beaton’s bare stage with beer glasses) sparse and uninspired. Likewise the awkward vocal fragments composed for Williams by Hanna Tuulikki, which, more often than not, detract from, rather than enhance, the poetry of Fosse’s language.

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